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Making Progress


It is not given to any teacher to know fully the influence he has over his pupil; usually it is not even appreciated by the pupil. This influence does show vitally, however, in the progress of the pupil, and is, in a sense, the measure of the teacher's ability. Long years of study with a celebrated master is of itself a poor preparation for the career of teacher; some of our most successful teachers are, for the most part, self-educated, successful because they develop the first necessary requisite in a good teacher, viz.: self-criticism; and self-criticism means advancement. No one who does not know himself can inspire in a pupil the confidence that induces him to work. He must first of all be taught ambition. So it is that the first elements of the pupil's progress comes from the teacher. His character, his self-poise, his sympathy, are the first unconscious, but all-powerful influences that the pupil feels. Without these, further progress is up-hill work for both teacher and pupil, and the end must be disappointing.
With self-criticism comes advancement, by which is meant that the teacher is now fully satisfied with his work, and is unwilling harshly to blame the pupil for lack of progress; by which is also meant that he will be constantly finding new ways in which to help his pupils. The old beaten paths taught him by his own teacher he will find extremely unsatisfactory, for what was good for him may be good for none of his pupils.
In piano-teaching there is no limit, in the technical line particularly, to ways and means for developing the playing apparatus. The teacher who does not every day learn something in this line is not fit to be intrusted with the care of a young person's musical development. And this, it seems to me, is the weakest spot in our pedagogic development. Teachers are not careful enough to understand their pupils. They do not diagnose each case as a doctor does a disease. If it were not so there would be fewer stiff joints and weak muscles in finger, arm, and wrist. There would be less use for a course of etudes as a principal means of technical development, and more use for technical exercises to fit the needs of each individual pupil. If it were not so there would be greater care in another matter, viz.: the selection of music for developing the artistic nature. The best, of course, should always be used; but that best should be from the standpoint of the pupil's needs, not such pieces as we might prefer to listen to. We may have a preference for the music of a hundred years ago; our pupils may be bored with it. It would be absurd to give a pupil compositions in chronological order from Bach and Handel to the present day; the reverse of this order might be preferable, for it requires a higher intelligence to appreciate abstract than emotional music.
It is natural that music of our own time and our own nation should appeal strongest to our young minds, for they are nearest to us in atmosphere and feeling. Our American publishers are continually issuing short pieces of easy and medium grades of difficulty, full of the life and feeling of our own time. They are the nucleus of our further creative development, and should be more and more used by our teachers. Many of them are highly musical and admirably adapted to the purposes for which they were written. The teacher who does not become acquainted with these works as they issue from the press is not doing his full duty to his pupils, neither is he using every possible means for his own advancement. The spirit that develops the recluse is not the influence to help a young pupil, and the compositions of our great masters, however much superior they may be to contemporary compositions for piano, cannot be made to do duty for all grades of mental and physical advancement.
A teacher should strive to develop in his pupil a love for both technic and interpretation, as two separate and distinct branches of pianistic knowledge. By that means his interest in the growth of each muscle of the finger, hand, and arm will be stimulated, and his interest in the poetical beauties of the pieces he studies will be hampered as little as possible by technical difficulties. It is taken for granted that the pieces will contain no great technical difficulties. As a result, there gradually grows in the pupil a necessity for further advancement; and from being a pupil he becomes through self-investigation his own teacher, thereby fitting him to become the teacher of others.— Read at Meeting of the New York Teachers' Association.

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